Bischoff, Morgan and King. The opinion of the court was delivered by Bischoff, J.A.D.
Respondent Raymond Kerlin, D.V.M., appeals from a decision of the Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of Consumer Affairs, Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (Board), finding him guilty of "gross malpractice or gross neglect" in the practice of veterinary medicine, in violation of N.J.S.A. 45:16-6(j), and assessing a civil penalty in the amount of $250.*fn1
This action commenced with the filing of a complaint by the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, alleging that respondent had violated the provisions of N.J.S.A. 45:16-6(j). A hearing was held, and at its conclusion the
Board filed a decision which included the following findings of fact:
In the late morning of August 23, 1975, Mrs. Shirley Freund, 106 Annabelle Avenue, Trenton, New Jersey, accompanied by three of her children; Deborah, age 15, Brenda, age 10, and Janis, age 7 took a three week old kitten to their regular veterinarian, Dr. Armour C. Wood. D.V.M., 2222 South Broad Street, Trenton, New Jersey. The kitten was very lethargic, had white gums and tongue and sunken watery eyes. A kitten from the same litter had earlier that morning expired, having the same symptoms as the kitten taken to Dr. Wood's office. These symptoms indicate that the kitten taken to Dr. Wood's office was on the verge of death.
Dr. Wood was not in when the Freunds arrived. Debbie was told by Dr. Wood's receptionist that she should bring the kitten to Dr. Kerlin, the respondent herein. Dr. Kerlin was covering for Dr. Wood's patients and for the patients of several other veterinarians who did not have office hours on this day. At about 2 p.m., the Freunds arrived at Dr. Kerlin's office. Mrs. Freund told Debbie to go into the office and told her to find out if "its o.k. to be billed Friday" before the doctor began treatment of the kitten.
Debbie went into the office alone and told Mrs. Kerlin, Dr. Kerlin's office assistant for thirteen years, that her kitten, which Debbie held in her hands, was in need of treatment. Debbie was told to be seated and that Dr. Kerlin would be with her shortly. At the time of this discussion Debbie was visibly upset. Within moments after this discussion, Mrs. Freund along with her two other children entered the waiting area of Dr. Kerlin's office and seated themselves along with Debbie. There was no one else in the waiting area.
After about a five minute wait, Mrs. Kerlin opened the door to the examination room, which is adjacent to the waiting area of Dr. Kerlin's office, and stated that the doctor would now see the little girl with the kitten. Dr. Kerlin was in the examination room. Debbie, with the kitten, approached the door where Mrs. Kerlin was standing but before entering, asked Mrs. Kerlin if "this can be billed Friday." Mrs. Kerlin responded by saying "I'm sorry we don't have credit arrangements." As she spoke, Mrs. Kerlin closed the door between the examination room and the waiting area leaving herself and Dr. Kerlin in the examination room and leaving Debbie and her family in the waiting area. After the door was closed, Debbie immediately turned and left Dr. Kerlin's office. She was immediately followed by Mrs. Freund with Debbie's two sisters. Within ten to fifteen minutes after the Freund's left Dr. Kerlin's office, the kitten expired in Mrs. Freund's car.
Accepting, as we do, this finding of fact as having support in substantial credible evidence in the record, In re
Heller , 73 N.J. 292, 374 A.2d 1191 (1977); Mayflower Securities v. Bureau of Securities , 64 N.J. 85, 92-93 (1973),*fn2 we proceed to consider the basic issue -- whether the conduct of respondent constitutes "gross malpractice or gross neglect" within the intent and meaning of N.J.S.A. 45:16-6(j). That statute provides:
The board may refuse to grant or may suspend or revoke a license to practice veterinary medicine, surgery and dentistry in this State, upon proof to the satisfaction ...